“I feel blessed to be able to live on American soil.”
This story was provided by StoryCorps. StoryCorps preserves and shares humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.
In 1975, Tan Dinh’s father was sent to reeducation when South Vietnam fell to the North. After his release, the family spent years planning their escape from Vietnam. They finally left by boat in 1981 when Tan was just 13 years old. Tan spoke with his 14-year-old daughter, Emily, about what it was like resettling in Albany, New York, as a teenager. Tan remembers the people that helped him and his family adjust to the new country, and talks about what it means for him to be an American.
Listen here, or read the full transcript below:
"We came to Albany late evening, and morning we woke up and certainly was excited to be able to breathe and live on American soil, but with apprehension, not knowing what to expect. And also because of the lack of the English language as well. But our neighbors tried to help us out. One of the men, a neighbor, I remember he gave me the baseball glove wanting me to -- introducing me to American sport. Also, the local Catholic parish, the pastor there is Father Robert Hornsty, he welcome us with open arms. He encouraged parishioner to help us in many ways. He and his friend often took my brother and me to many places, tried to introduce us to American culture, American way of life. I also had a chance to attend American school as eighth grade student at the Hackett Middle High School.
It was my first day at school, and a student took me down to cafeteria and he asked me what do I want for lunch. I didn't know what to say. I knew how he asking, but I didn't know what to say. There was no sign and no mark I can point to. And he asked me, do I want tuna sandwich. I say yes, although I didn't know what it was. It turned out that I didn't like it, but every single day after that, tuna sandwich is what I had. Every single day. I didn't know what else to order. I was embarrassed to ask.
I remember Mrs. Levine, about a week after I attend Hackett Middle High, she asked me to come to the library one hour before school start, and every day she would volunteer to teach me the basics of the English language. Years later I tried to track her down, calling Hackett Middle High School, but was not successful.
For many years every night I pray for Mrs. Levine along with many other people who helped me along the way. I feel blessed to be able to live on American soil. This is the greatest country on Earth. Americans are exceptionally generous, and I'm also grateful for America for taking us in to provide a shelter, us political refugees.
United States of America offer us the chance to be reborn, a second life, to be human, to act humanly with decency. I would want you as my daughter to not for taking for granted of the rights of American and not taking for granted the privilege you have."
Recorded and produced by StoryCorps for the WGBH/American Experience First Days Story Project. The project was inspired by the film "Last Days in Vietnam." Listen to more stories at pbs.org/firstdays.